Dee, Caitlin, Vrai are back for part three of Toradora! The emotions are big and the kids are good, but our dreaded “love quadrangle” senses are tingling…
Date Recorded: March 7th, 2020
Hosts: Caitlin, Dee, Vrai
0:01:26 The love quadrangle
0:22:26 Yusaku’s abusive dad
0:35:05 Innocence vs maturity
0:43:12 New OP/ED
0:45:05 Sumire and life after high school
CAITLIN: Hi, welcome to Chatty AF, the Anime Feminist podcast. My name’s Caitlin Moore. I’m joined today by Dee and Vrai, and we’ll be talking about Toradora episodes 14 to 19. You can find my Twitter @alltsun_nodere and my writing on The Daily Dot, at heroineproblem.com, heroine with an E.
Vrai. How about you introduce yourself this time?
VRAI: Okay. Hey, I’m Vrai Kaiser. I’m an editor and contributor at Anime Feminist, and also I freelance on the Web. You can find my Twitter @WriterVrai, where I follow Dee’s example by retreating into childhood nostalgia to cope. And also you can find the other show I cohost @trashpod.
DEE: Sometimes you just need those good, good 4Kids-dubbed animes to keep you alive.
VRAI: Sometimes you do!
DEE: [Chuckles] Vrai, for folks at home who don’t know, has fallen down a Yu-Gi-Oh hole as of late, and it’s been very enjoyable.
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] Oh, deep in that hole. [Chuckles]
DEE: Yeah. That’s neither here nor there. Hi, I’m Dee. I am the managing editor at Anime Feminist. You can find all my writings on my blog, The Josei Next Door, and you can hang out with me on Twitter @joseinextdoor.
CAITLIN: All right, so, let’s talk Toradora. Let’s talk Toradora turkey, much like Haruta in episode 19.
VRAI: It’s not a turkey!
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] So, how did you guys—
DEE: So we’re talking Toradora chicken, is what you’re saying.
DEE: Listen, if this stretch of episodes taught me anything, it’s that sometimes you just need something to believe in. And he needed to believe that that chicken was turkey, by God!
CAITLIN: You know what? Chicken is better, so he’s honestly better off.
DEE: I do kind of agree with you on that one, yeah.
CAITLIN: So, other than that, how do you guys feel about this stretch of episodes?
VRAI: I feel like I am in the opposite position I was in on the last episode, where last time, the last couple episodes were so good that it kind of glossed over the quibbles I had with the earlier episodes, where with this one, there was some really good stuff in the middle bunch there and I’m so annoyed by the end of episode 19 that it’s kind of making me grumpy.
DEE: Yeah, I kind of spent the last three-ish episodes watching the show barrel down the path I didn’t want it to barrel down. And to its credit, it’s handling it about as well as I think you can.
I think it is doing a good job of nailing the feeling of being a teenager with a tight-knit group of friends, and the relationships start to get kind of weird and shifting, and you don’t know how to deal, and there’s a lot of different ways that that can manifest itself, depending upon the person. And I think this stretch of episodes handles those aspects with its characters really well.
But I didn’t want it to go the love quadrangle—is it bigger than a quadrangle?—Whatever it is, I didn’t want it to go that route anyway, so there’s definitely this part of me that’s like “Well, we’re here. So, I guess if we’re here, I may as well just focus on what it’s doing well instead of the fact that I’m annoyed that it felt like the only way it could have this conversation was to make everybody be in love with everybody else.”
CAITLIN: Yeah, no, Toradora does handle the kind of messy teenage emotions very well, but it is very heterosexual. And y’all, I was biting my tongue so hard for like half of the last episode that we recorded.
DEE: I’m sure.
CAITLIN: Like when you were like, “I hope Yusaku gets an arc,” I’m just sitting there like [furiously muffles speech].
CAITLIN: You’re talking about “Oh, I hope Minori doesn’t fall in love with Ryuji…” [furiously muffles speech]. That was basically what I was doing.
DEE: That was the big thing I felt very confident was going to happen, and I just hoped I would be wrong. And I wasn’t, so here we are. And to be fair, I think maybe saying “falls in love with” is maybe a stretch. She, as the kids say, is catching feels.
DEE: It does not strike me as… I don’t know. It was very much that sense of “Oh, wait. He’s getting a picture of me. Does he have a crush on me? Wait, he has a crush on me. Do I have a crush on him? Maybe I do. Oh no! What if I do? Taiga likes him! Oh no!” And then it just guilt-spiraled from there. So, it’s very high school.
VRAI: Yeah. And I think it’s to Toradora’s credit overall that I’m as annoyed as I am, because this is something I think I did predict going into the show—if not on the show, then in my head—that everybody would end up catching feels for Ryuji at some point. But Toradora has been so consistently good at doing interesting takes on love shenanigan shows that it kind of raised my hopes for a hot second that maybe… I don’t know.
I’m not even sure that I wanted Minori to be gay, because then she would just be the adorable girl from O Maidens, and I’m tired of that archetype, too.
DEE: Yeah, the unrequited-love queer character is also exhausted. Honestly, what I was hoping to get out of Minori’s arc was what you kind of got at the tail end of the school festival, is the sense of like, “I’m a little jealous that my best friend is…” Kind of like a minor version of what happens in Fushigi Yugi a little bit, where the best friend has to deal with the fact that this friend she’s been really close with now has a romantic partner—or somebody who she’s interested in romantically—and how do you balance those two different kinds of relationships that are super important to you?
VRAI: Yeah, I genuinely wanted her depression either to be a friendship story, which I think her and Taiga’s friendship is so good and so sweet, or just have nothing to do with the relationship shenanigans going on. Like, “Look, I know y’all are In It right now and this is everything to you because you’re teenagers, but I’m having problems that have nothing to do with who I do or do not want to have a smooch with.” I thought that would have been really interesting. And instead, it’s kind of…
It also bothers me that the way her feelings manifest is basically just a combination of how Taiga got a crush on Yusaku and also a little bit of how Ami ended up with feelings for Ryuji. And I’m sure that happens a lot in normal friend groups, but conservation of narrative detail just makes it feel like “I couldn’t think of more ways for girls to get feelings about things.”
So, yeah, that’s all my feels about that.
DEE: Yeah. Yeah, I get that, absolutely. It’s starting to feel like they all have these very distinct character arcs and personalities in the way that they handle things, like conflict and their insecurities and all that—which we talked about a little bit last week, like how Minori uses humor, Taiga uses anger, that kind of thing. And that’s so good. But then, now it does feel like the show is starting to narrow it all down into just romantic…
CAITLIN: They’re all in love with Ryuji.
DEE: Yeah, it’s all romantic love stories, instead of being that diverse array of young adult writing that I really, really like about the show. And again—
CAITLIN: Right, because it’s coming towards the climax now. And what is everyone’s climax going to be? It is going to be some kind of romantic issue. And listen, I can understand why they all fall in love with Ryuji. He’s a sweet boy.
VRAI: He’s a nice boy, especially among high school boys, which is a hard time.
DEE: Yeah. So I get why they would all have crushes on him. The way Toradora is exaggerating those emotions to the point where they’re all fixated on him—
DEE: —is bothersome, because I went through both the devastated, in-super-deep high school emotions, but I also just had crushes on guys who were nice or cute or fun.
DEE: And it was never a big deal. It wasn’t like I was pining after them. It was just the guy who was really the best actor in the drama club, who we all liked to joke we all had a crush on him, simultaneously, and it wasn’t a big, dramatic deal. It was just kind of a thing.
And I think Toradora could have been more interesting had it been more willing to engage with the varying levels of catching feels—if we’re going to keep using that term—because I think it’s pretty solid. I think that would have been much more interesting than all three of them having these deep, intense pining emotions for Ryuji, who… again, sweet boy. I totally get why you would develop a crush.
And in Minori’s case what I think would have been more interesting would have been an extremely safe crush that she never really had any interest in pursuing, because I’m still hanging on to my aroace reading of her a little bit, even though I know it’s not canon.
CAITLIN: You reject canon and substitute your own! That’s right.
DEE: [crosstalk] Hell yeah!
VRAI: Because it’s a better, more interesting arc!
CAITLIN: I do totally see what you mean, because there have definitely been guys who I have known, like in my dorm or someone in high school, who all the girls are like, “Yeah, I kinda have a crush on him, because he’s cute and he’s really nice.” Yeah, no, but it was never like [melodramatically] “Oh, so-and-so! I’m devastated because he loves someone else and not me.” It’s just like, “Yeah, I’d totally go out with him. Yeah!”
DEE: Yeah, there’s different layers of romantic interest or crushes on people. You really don’t see that in any anime, so it’s not like I’m knocking Toradora super hard. Like I said, if the show is gonna go the love quadrangle route that it’s decided to go down, I think it’s handling it about as well as it possibly could. [chuckles weakly] But the fact that it’s doing it at all is a point of… Like, by the end of this, it kind of made my teeth hurt. I was like, [groans], dammit, dammit, dammit.
VRAI: Yeah, once I separate my feeling of those last few minutes where I was just slowly pulling my skin down from my eyes—
VRAI: —the cinematography of that scene where Taiga starts crying and we just cut to Minori in the streetlight, it’s a really beautifully shot scene. That’s really poignant.
DEE: Yeah. And again, I have to accept the fact that this is the direction the show is going. Everybody is going to have big, devastated romantic feelings in this last stretch.
So then I have to look at: okay, how is the show handling that? And I think that Minori’s guilt spiral and isolating herself completely is obviously very different from Ami’s quasi-manipulative attempts to force everybody to deal with their shit and then maybe after the explosion, things will change for her.
CAITLIN: And then after everything shakes out, it will shake out so that Ryuji is next to her and…
DEE: Yeah, versus Taiga having that very sudden moment of realizing, “Oh, shit, if this works out, we’re not going to be the number-one person in each other’s lives necessarily.” And that sudden moment of “Wait, no, I don’t actually want that. I want Ryuji and I to be together.” I think all of that is handled really well. And I think those are all resonant moments in young relationships and romantic entanglements and things like that.
Um… Yeah, I think that’s the end of that thought.
DEE: The end!
VRAI: I love the mascot scene, too. My God, that’s precious!
DEE: [crosstalk] Oh my God, that was good! Yeah, when Ryuji comes in in the bear costume. Yeah, that’s adorable.
CAITLIN: Yeah. I think what’s going on with the characters outside of the romantic subplots is more interesting. Like Taiga talking about how she believes in Santa, and it’s kind of a coping mechanism for her feeling so alone on Christmas all the time, like “Well, I’m not alone, because Santa’s here and Santa loves me,” and Ami just sort of being like, “Hey, you need to figure your shit out.”
VRAI: [crosstalk] Ami’s terrible and I support her.
CAITLIN: You know what I do enjoy about— I told you, she’s terrible and wonderful!
VRAI: Boy, they really do not sell her in those early episodes. Holy shit!
CAITLIN: I told you. [Chuckles]
VRAI: Okay, but I—
CAITLIN: I told you you would love Ami by the end of the show.
VRAI: And you were correct.
CAITLIN: [Chuckles] Yeah, let’s just talk about Ami. I wish she had more screen time in these episodes, because she kind of just crashes in. She’s like, “Hey, guys! Figure your shit out,” and then goes off and sings a song.
DEE: Yeah, I feel like a lot of Ami’s plot points have been almost subtextual, kind of in the background. I appreciate the way she calls everybody out on their shit because in a way, she sort of helps push the plot forward. Like when Yusaku has his minor meltdown and dyes his hair and starts getting into fights, and she’s like, “Yeah, he’s rebelling for attention.”
CAITLIN: [Chuckles] I mean, she’s known him for so long, you would think that she would play more of a role in those episodes when he is going through a crisis.
DEE: Yeah, and maybe the sense we’re supposed to get is that the two of them… they’ve known each other for forever, but they’re not super close. Because we’ve never really seen them confide in each other, so that may just be their relationship with each other.
CAITLIN: That’s true.
DEE: But then she kind of points out the same thing with Ryuji. She’s like, “You’re sort of pretending to be Taiga’s dad. And that’s weird. You need to figure out what your relationship to her is because being her dad isn’t an option.” And I think that’s an extremely fair point.
CAITLIN: And then he wears her dad’s suit!
DEE: I know! It got a little rough there.
VRAI: It is weird how… And I’m not sure if… This is a thing I’ve noticed a lot with anime in general, and I don’t know why it’s… Maybe it’s that good writing again, that it stuck out to me here, but that thing, especially in hetero high school romcoms, where you have these characters who exist in this ambiguous space and one character clearly has a crush, and other people will say to the character who is being crushed on, “Well, if you don’t hate him, clearly you should consider his feelings.”
It’s as though… “Either say that you hate them and you never want to see them again, or progress on to a romantic relationship.” Like the option of turning them down and remaining friends is implicitly never an option. And I don’t know if that’s a language—like, the set of words that are used in this archetypal situation or what’s happening there, but it’s weird.
DEE: What specifically are you talking about? Are you talking about the stuff with Yusaku and Sumire?
VRAI: I am talking about that, too, but also I think it’s something Ami brings up to Taiga as well. But yeah, the Sumire thing specifically.
CAITLIN: Yeah. No, that does bother me pretty routinely. Or it’s like, “Oh, you don’t like me. So you hate me?” Like “No, I don’t hate you.” “All right, we’re dating now.”
VRAI: No, there’s an in-between space there! There’s a big in-between space there!
CAITLIN: [Chuckles] Yeah, that’s definitely something that I have noticed and something that irritates me from time to time. And Toradora really does a really good job with different-sex friendships.
DEE: Until they all turn into romances.
CAITLIN: Yeah, until all of a sudden they’re all crushing on each other. You know, maybe Minori should get together with Yusaku. I don’t know. Read my fanfiction. No, not really.
VRAI: I’ll be honest, I’m kind of surprised they haven’t done anything with Yusaku and Ami, because I’m very jaded and when I hear the words “childhood friends,” I just assume that that’s on lock.
DEE: That something’s gonna happen there. Yeah. Yeah, but like you said, they really—
CAITLIN: Didn’t she have a crush on him or was…?
DEE: I don’t remember that, no.
CAITLIN: Oh, no, I’m misremembering.
VRAI: Speaking of Sumire and Yusaku, I was really pleasantly surprised with how that went down. I feel like they could have hit harder on the narrative giving weight to her line that “Well, if he says that I’ve ruined his life by leaving to pursue my dreams, then that’s his problem.”
But I really liked the ending, where he was like, “You know, I’m gonna do my thing, and you’re gonna do yours, and I’m so glad I got to meet you,” basically. I thought that was really nice and mature, because that trope of “Well, I’ll follow you to wherever you’re going, Person I Knew in High School for a Year…”
CAITLIN: Right, yeah, and she’s like, “No, you have your own life to live. If I tell you I like you, then you’re going to take off after me.” No, I really enjoyed pretty much everything about those episodes.
I think that Kano, the student council president, she’s an interesting character that we never really got to spend too much time with. But I really liked her a lot in these episodes. And seeing Yusaku sort of come into his own as a character. I thought it was a really, really well-done break… like, high school emotional meltdown.
Like the part where the girls are talking and someone’s talking about something’s big, and he’s just sitting there muttering, “Was it a big penis?” And all the girls are like “What?” And he can’t even get it out, because he’s trying to be crude but that’s just not who he is, and he can barely say anything.
I’m not saying it wasn’t a sincere sort of rebellion, but they did a good job showing how that’s not who he really is. He has just hit an emotional breaking point, and he is, like Ami said, acting out for attention, but at the same time, that acting out for attention is legitimate. He’s going through a crisis, and he doesn’t know how to express it because he’s always been the good kid.
DEE: Yeah, because he has spent the last year kind of chasing after this girl a little bit and being like, “And then when I get elected class president, I’ll tell her how I feel,” and he had this big old dramatic plan built up in his head that then collapses on him.
And I need to apologize. Yusaku, I’m sorry I called you a potato.
DEE: You’re not a potato.
VRAI: He’s a little bit of potato, but he’s a very nice potato.
DEE: He has a character arc. And he’s also kind of a weirdo. And we’ve seen that in glimpses in the past couple of bits, but at the Christmas party he’s just wearing suspenders and just hugging everybody and just being a big doofus.
CAITLIN: [Laughs] Hot Santa!
DEE: I’m not sure what the line was in the Japanese version, but when he grabs the two guys and falls over laughing, one of them goes, “I’m being harassed by a kinky Santa!” It was very good.
VRAI: I think they just call him a pervert. It’s much more boring.
DEE: Yeah, no, I liked the Kinky Santa. And you can tell they’re all just goofing around and having fun.
On that note, I liked the other guy having a sexy Christmas dream where everybody’s naked in it, and he’s like, “And that’s when I woke up.”
CAITLIN: Oh, Haruta.
DEE: Again, I think this show has some really nice, authentic moments of high schoolers—teenagers just being thirsty in a more realistic, sort of relatable way. And also having the rebellion of dyeing his hair and then him just kind of letting loose at the Christmas party.
CAITLIN: Really badly, too.
DEE: Really badly, yeah.
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] It was a bad dye job.
DEE: And then just letting loose at the Christmas party, in sort of a goofy way of just going around and messing around with his classmates who he’s known forever. I like when the show hits those moments.
It helps balance out the dramatic beats really well, in a way that is more reminiscent of what high school actually is. It’s not nonstop drama and frustration and sorrow. There’s a lot of silly, fun shit that goes down along the way, as well.
CAITLIN: Yeah, there’s a lot of goofing around. And then every so often it is punctuated with melodrama.
DEE: Yeah. And I like that the show handles that. [Suddenly intense] Hey! Hey! Are we gonna talk about the fact that Yusaku’s dad abuses him? No, Show? No, Toradora?!
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] Yeah! Yeah!
VRAI: [crosstalk] I would love to talk about, Show!
DEE: We’re just gonna skate right by that, huh?
CAITLIN: Yeah, it’s weird that they glossed over that when the show has so much about parental relationships. It’s such a strong, persistent theme.
VRAI: And also, it’s Mari Okada.
CAITLIN: Yeah, and it’s just like, “Huh. Yusaku’s dad hit him. It’s bad enough to leave a bruise on this face. Well, anyway, moving on.” What? Wait, no, we have to do something with this. And maybe the novels do. But it felt really weird to just skate past it because, like I said, there is so much that they do with parent-child relationships. So it felt really weird and awkward to just have that there.
DEE: Yeah, I mean, we spent all that time with Taiga and her trash dad. And then for it just to be like “Yeah, and then my dad beat the crap out of me,” it’s like, what? Wait, what? Hey, Yusaku, are we gonna…? No? Nothing’s gonna come of that. Okay. That adds an extra concerning layer to your character. Are you okay, kiddo?
VRAI: It explains some things, and it makes me very worried for him!
DEE: It does, right? And whether intentionally or no, it adds another layer to his little rebellious—
CAITLIN: His rebellion.
DEE: —his rebellion and the fact that he has been so straightlaced. And you know, he’s on the baseball team and he’s good at it, and he’s in the student council and he’s good at it, and the one week that he has a meltdown, and that’s the way his dad responds… It tells you a lot about Yusaku in a short breath that, again, maybe the show had no idea that it was doing that with it, but I don’t know, maybe it did. But yeah, it’s sort of horrifying to me that Ryuji just kind of moves past that like it’s not a huge issue.
VRAI: Right, because we’re in 2020 and Stars Align exists.
DEE: Yeah, I definitely thought back to Stars Align at that moment where I’m like “This should be something we’re discussing.”
CAITLIN: Yeah. Hey, guys, don’t hit your kids.
VRAI: Just don’t do it.
DEE: Yeah, that seems pretty straightforward and simple.
VRAI: Somebody edit in that Zach Braff clip from Scrubs.
J.D. (from Scrubs): You had a tough day at the office, so you come home, make yourself some dinner, smother your kids, pop in a movie, maybe have a drink. It’s fun, right? Wrong. Don’t smother your kids.
DEE: [Chuckles] God!
CAITLIN: I don’t remember that bit at all.
VRAI: It was extremely dark and I cannot remember the setup for it!
DEE: That is extremely dark, yes, but also true. Don’t do that.
CAITLIN: Don’t hit kids.
DEE: Yeah. So anyway, that was probably one of the biggest “what” moments I had during this stretch of episodes, because it just seemed like it came out of nowhere and then, again, the show doesn’t really address it.
VRAI: That and, like you mentioned, Ami’s arc feeling subtexty: the situation where it seems like she’s being pressured by her mom to move away, and then that gets resolved, almost off screen entirely, feels like novel subplots.
DEE: Yeah, there’s a lot of Ami stuff that seems to just happen in the margins of these episodes. The sense I get is she’s living on her own right now and her mom is trying to get her to move back home and maybe trying to get her to continue modeling and she doesn’t want to. I don’t know. I’m assuming the show will eventually address that.
I’m not 100% sure they’re going to eventually address Yusaku’s dad. At this point, I would say probably not. It feels like they’ve effectively written Yusaku out of the core dramatic beats at this point, because Taiga seems to be over him and he’s not entangled in the other romantic stuff. I could be wrong. I didn’t think he was going to get an arc at all earlier, and he did. But I guess we’ll see how the last stretch goes.
CAITLIN: Yeah, because there’s 10 volumes of the Toradora novels, and the series wasn’t finished when the anime came out.
DEE: Oh, okay.
CAITLIN: So it is entirely possible that this was covered in the novels and it just didn’t make it to the anime.
VRAI: Tell us in the comments, listeners. I’m genuinely curious.
DEE: Yeah, folks at home—
CAITLIN: If you read the Toradora novels, let us know.
But speaking of good parents, I really enjoyed Yasuko in these episodes.
VRAI: She’s so good!
CAITLIN: She didn’t do very much. But the part where they’re making a bunch of noise and she just comes out of the bedroom and she just holds up some money and then jerks her head towards the door… That was very real. [Chuckles]
DEE: That was a very good parent moment, because when she opened the door, I thought she was gonna yell at them. And I love that she’s like, “I’m not gonna yell at them. They’re not doing anything wrong. I just need them out of the house.”
CAITLIN: They need to be gone!
DEE: They need to not be here, so here’s 30 bucks. Go see a Star War.
CAITLIN: I’ve definitely had that moment, not with my kids because I don’t have kids of course, but with roommates and stuff like that, just like I’m trying to sleep and it’s during times when I’m working overnight and I’m just like, “You need to be somewhere I cannot hear you right now. I don’t care where you go. Just not here.”
VRAI: Oh, that was such beautiful, perfect comedy. She’s so good. And I love that the series… There are one or two cheesecake shots, but by and large, the show really respects her emotional intelligence in a way that I did not have the heart to expect.
CAITLIN: Right, because it seems like she’s gonna be the airhead mom who doesn’t know what’s going on at all ever, but actually she’s a good mom. She acts like an airhead, but she’s very sweet and caring.
VRAI: [crosstalk] Also the fact that she fucking stole everything she could pawn and ran away from home as a teenager is hardcore as shit!
CAITLIN: She’s hardcore.
DEE: Yeah, I like her.
VRAI: [crosstalk] And her patting Taiga’s head filled my heart with feelings. It was nice.
DEE: You don’t get a ton of scenes with them, but you get some really sweet moments between her and Ryuji, and her and Taiga as well, and she’s kind of adopted Taiga into the family in a way that’s really nice. And when Yusaku just shows up, she’s like, “Yeah, of course, you can stay. That’s fine.”
And knowing what we know about her childhood, it sort of makes sense that she would be more understanding and wanting to help out kids who maybe have tough home situations. So I really like that about her.
CAITLIN: I feel like every friend group has one of those parents, right?
DEE: The chill, understanding parent who’s like “Yeah, you can come here. That’s fine.” Yeah.
DEE: “If you need to crash…” Yeah, and you always know, “That’s the house I can go to when things are getting rough.”
CAITLIN: Or maybe not every friend group has it, but ideally every friend group would.
DEE: I was fortunate. We had a couple. One of them was my own mom, which was also awesome.
DEE: Anyway… Sorry. [Chuckles] That’s also going slightly off topic. But no, yeah, Yasu was nice in this stretch.
Can we also, as long as we’re talking about adults… and we have yet to mention their teacher yet, and I’m kind of glad we waited.
VRAI: Oh, must we?
CAITLIN: [Sighs as if annoyed]
DEE: Because I hated their teacher for a long, long time, and this stretch I finally started to warm up to her a little bit. But I absolutely hate the trope of—God, this shows up in anime all the time—the sad, pushing-30, single teacher who’s so depressed about the fact that she’s no longer 15 and doesn’t have a boyfriend or whatever.
CAITLIN: And she resents the youth of the children. Ugh, yeah, no, I’m so done with that archetype. It’s just so gross because it really does promote the idea that your life is over if you’re a woman over 25.
DEE: Yeah. It’s rough.
CAITLIN: Which is a very real thing that a lot of people feel and struggle with. And even though I have friends and a job that I love and a husband that I love, it still sometimes feels like I’m 32, my youth has passed me by, my beauty is fading.
CAITLIN: And it’s like, “so can we get over those media depictions?” Right?
VRAI: I’m not even a lady, and that stuff is still like, well, I grew up with this for 30 years.
DEE: Yeah, it sort of embeds itself in your brain. Yeah, so I despise that trope. And I meant to gripe about the teacher last week, and we ended up talking about lots of other stuff and it just never really came up. But as long as we were on the adults, I did want to mention her this week, especially because this week one thing I did kind of like is we actually got some nice moments.
Like, when Yusaku’s having his meltdown, and Taiga and Ryuji… She asks his friends. Instead of immediately calling his parents, she asks his friends, “Do you guys know why he might be acting like this? Because we’re trying to help him and we don’t know what’s going on.” And then when Taiga and Ryuji tell her about their plan to encourage him to run for StuCo by showing that he’s needed by the other students, she agrees, like “Okay, yeah, no, go ahead and do your thing and I’ll support you and try to help you out as much as I can.”
And then I did love that during the Christmas party she’s having one of her typical “Oh, God, I’m gonna be alone on Christmas. So sad. Look at these kids,” and then she goes, “Wait.”
CAITLIN: And she’s like “I’m gonna go to a real estate seminar.”
DEE: Yeah. She’s like “You know what? No. There’s other things that I can be focusing on with my life.”
CAITLIN: That’s right!
DEE: “There’s other ways I can get my shit together. I don’t have to worry about romance. I’m gonna buy a condo!”
CAITLIN: Because Christmas is not a big-deal holiday in Japan, other than small children and the romantic aspect. Christmas Day isn’t even a national holiday.
DEE: Yeah, but Christmas Eve parties and going out with your sweetheart is a thing.
CAITLIN: Yeah, it’s a thing. It’s like Valentine’s Day. It’s nice to have someone there. But it’s not a huge holiday that the whole country celebrates. So it was nice that she was just like “I’m gonna move on with my life. I’m gonna do something else during Christmas.”
Because it’s not like here, where it’s Christmas and that’s the only thing going on for the vast majority of the people, a holiday unless you are a member of a religion that doesn’t celebrate Christmas, and so that if you’re not doing anything for Christmas, it feels really strange. At least, that’s the case for me.
VRAI: [crosstalk] I hope she got her Christmas KFC.
VRAI: It’s never gonna be not funny to me.
CAITLIN: You have to put in orders for that weeks ahead of time. She does not have any Christmas KFC, I’m sorry.
DEE: It’s all right.
CAITLIN: It’s okay, because she’s gonna buy herself a sweet condo.
DEE: And I do like that I feel like, lowkey, the teacher has had this background arc, and so I’m very, very curious to see if we get much out of her in the last stretch. Like if they backslide, or if they’re trying to show… And I’d be curious to see if the teacher’s in the books or if that was an Okada addition.
But I like that while all the teenagers are flipping out about romance, we currently have this very lowkey arc about the adult woman in the cast going “You know what? There’s other ways to feel stable in my life and take control of things and be happy. So here’s some other stuff I’m going to try to do: be supportive of my students and also get myself some real estate.” [Chuckles]
VRAI: Her line about… “Those couples who are out on Christmas dates aren’t going to be prepared when the proper real estate—”
VRAI: That killed me dead.
DEE: That was so good. [Chuckles] [Haughtily] “Their financial situation will not be like mine. Ha-ha! Take that, couples!”
CAITLIN: There you go! [Chuckles]
DEE: Yeah, so I’m kind of glad I didn’t talk about the teacher last week because I had some positive stuff to say this week, which was really nice. I hate that I don’t even know their teacher’s name. I’m sure she has a name. I’ve been calling her “the teacher.” But that was good to see.
VRAI: Right. Yeah, I really like the running theme through this stretch of episodes about innocence or “immaturity versus maturity,” and how all these kids are chasing it and presenting one or the other in various degrees, and not always in the ways that they think they’re doing it.
Like Ami’s whole arc is about how she feels like she has to be the grown-up friend—which speaking of, I also really liked the scene where she cheers up their teacher by noticing her sweater. I thought that was sweet.
DEE: Yeah, I forgot about that. You’re right. That was a really nice moment, where, yeah, she actually noticed that her teacher is super into fashion. She’s like, “Yeah, me too,” so they had that humanizing moment, where it’s like, yeah, there’s more to both of us.
One thing I think this stretch does well is, with Ami, that sense of how different characters perceive her based on how she behaves in front of them. Because she has those conversations with Minori where you can tell Ami’s kind of cynically amused because Minori keeps talking about how Ami’s so grown up and mature and she wishes she could be as grown up and mature as Ami is. And then I think her two close girlfriends kind of say the same thing.
But then at the end of the episode, when Ryuji is talking to her like “You should really learn how to cook” and “Here, take this food home with you and make sure you eat a good meal,” he makes a comment about her being like a kid.
Again, a lot of Ami stuff is subtext, but I think that’s one of the reasons she really likes Ryuji, is she feels like he gets her better than other people do, like that front of maturity and—being above it all is a front—and he’s one of the few people who gets that she’s a mess like everybody else. She’s just better at hiding it because in some ways she did have to grow up faster than everybody else, and she was a public figure and had to deal with stalkers and shit.
CAITLIN: Well, also, she’s had her turn to be a mess. Now it’s Minori’s and Yusaku’s turn to be a mess, right? That’s how it works, right?
VRAI: Yeah. Yeah, you take your turns.
DEE: [crosstalk] Yeah, in high school, we all take turns. It definitely doesn’t all happen simultaneously halfway through our junior year. Definitely not that!
VRAI: [Warily] Ooh.
DEE: Sorry, was that too specific?
VRAI: Junior year is bad.
DEE: But anyway… Yeah, but that sense of, like you were saying, maturity and immaturity and… I feel like Minori is trying really hard to do the mature thing by just taking herself out of the equation, and she doesn’t want to break any relationships, so she’s like, “Well, if I’m just not around, then maybe these feelings will just go away. And I’ll just focus on other stuff like my softball team.”
But then she has these like… Really, I still love Minori. I don’t love that the narrative has forced her into having deep romantic feels for Ryuji, but I do still love the character. But God, that moment when she breaks the star and is just freaking out about how she’s shattered this thing that her best friend loved and how can she possibly fix it and wanting to do it all on her own… Minori’s got layers. I love her.
VRAI: Uh-huh, she’s good. And she’s a Yu-Gi-Oh fan, which only makes me love her more.
DEE: That is true. God, the scene where they’re picking out the… That was the scene with the photos, right?
DEE: Where they’re talking about the numbers and stuff? Yeah, that was really good.
CAITLIN: I missed the Yu-Gi-Oh reference.
VRAI: When they’re dinking around with the photos, she does it the way you would announce actions in the card game, in the same dramatic way as the anime.
CAITLIN: Okay! [Chuckles]
VRAI: It’s very cute.
CAITLIN: Yeah, Yu-Gi-Oh was more of my little brother’s thing.
DEE: It’s nicely done though.
VRAI: Yeah, and I love that star scene, because I think what holds this set of episodes back is that it spends too long on the melodrama, but at the same time, I think Toradora overall has this real talent for those crystallizing moments that happen a lot when you’re a teenager, where you’re like, this one thing happened and it’s about to become real symbolic of all the little things we’re not talking about in our life.
DEE: Yeah, the way they all kind of talk around different things in the stretches is really nice. The Minori scene with Ryuji and talking about, like, “We broke it, it’s never gonna be the same…” Whew, I feel that feeling. Again, I think the show has done a good job of showing a tight-knit group of friends and when the relationship starts to shift and that sort of collective panic that you start to feel as that happens; or you just try to pretend it’s not happening, like Ryuji’s kinda trying to just keep everything the same this stretch, which he clearly can’t do.
And then there’s a nice moment in the Christmas party, too, where I think he’s talking to Yusaku and they’re talking about like… I don’t know if they’re talking about Minori or some of the other classmates, but they have this kind of sideways conversation about like, everybody should end up happy because it’s only right. It’s only fair that everybody end up happy because nobody’s done anything wrong. Everybody’s doing their best and trying to look after each other, and so it’s only fair that we should all end up happy.
I thought that was a really nice moment because that is often how it feels in those sort of awkward relationship shuffles. And obviously… I mean, you know, we talk on this podcast a lot about like, “Just go with the OT3 option” or “Just pick the polyamorous route,” which, I mean, obviously there should be more poly rep in fiction, but also, obviously not everybody wants a poly relationship. So there’s a lot more to it than just “Well, just go the harem ending” like you’re playing an otoge.
VRAI: [crosstalk] Especially because these kids are so… At this age, they’re really not good at conversation. And that’s so important.
DEE: Yeah. Yeah. So that would make it even tougher. But my point being, you know, so when you do have these clashing of emotions, like Ryuji says during the star scene, “You know, if we work at it, it’ll eventually be okay,” but there is going to be a period where not everybody is going to be happy, and how do you work through that?
I would imagine that will be one of the bigger points in the last stretch because, again, as much as the love quadrangle melodramatics tend to just make me groan deep, deep down on the inside, I think these episodes have done a good job of setting it up in a way where I sympathize with everybody. It’s not like it’s anybody’s fault.
The miscommunications that are happening… they feel organic to the story. Does that make sense? Or to the characters. Like, I understand why Minori is not talking to anybody, you know? Okay…
VRAI: Yeah. Yeah. I feel you. And Ami’s crush on Ryuji, too, really felt natural. Those feelings… I understand where they grew out of.
DEE: Yeah. And so then the way they’re handling it makes sense for the characters. They’re not talking to each other because “we need to create melodrama in the story.” It feels like it’s coming organically out of the characters. Or Taiga isn’t realizing this thing because she’s just been alone for so long that she’s never really thought about what it would mean to rely on somebody else or want somebody else in her life.
So, I really do like that about it, is that the narrative went “Okay, let’s do one of these love quadrangle style stories, but let’s do it in a way where it’s not just all contrived bullshit.” It feels genuine. So, I appreciate that at the end of the day. And I hope the last arc can bring it together somehow.
CAITLIN: I’m curious, how do you guys feel about the new theme songs?
VRAI: I don’t like it!
CAITLIN: They’re not as good.
DEE: No. They’re okay. They’re not as good, though.
VRAI: I like the animation for the new ending, although it’s not as iconic as the first one, obviously. But I sort of like that soft pastel, homemaking type of ending. But yeah, no, they’re not as good.
CAITLIN: Yeah, no. “My Silky Love” sounds like… Maybe I’ve just been watching too much Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.
VRAI: [crosstalk] It’s so bad!
CAITLIN: “My Silky Love” sounds like a vagina euphemism.
DEE: [Laughs] Little bit.
CAITLIN: I’ve been holding on to that one.
VRAI: No, no, no. I was watching these on the couch, and Dorothy walked by as the new theme song came on and she was like, “What the fuck does that mean?”
DEE: “What is silky love?” Yeah. I honestly had no idea that the show swapped. And then it happened in episode 18 or something. I was like “Wait, what? Why?”
VRAI: [crosstalk] Which is weird!
CAITLIN: Yeah, it happens super late.
DEE: Yeah. It’s a strange time to swap over. No, the first ones were much snappier. But yeah, like Vrai said, I do like the animation in the last one. It’s cute to see Ryuji just making food for everybody.
CAITLIN: Mm-hm. Bakin’.
VRAI: And I’m even down for the song, and we’re doing a metaphor about unripe fruits. Okay.
CAITLIN: [feigning shock] What? Wait, it’s a metaphor?
DEE: [feigning confusion] Is that also a sex thing? I don’t…
CAITLIN: I mean, fruit ripening, ready for harvest… You know.
CAITLIN: [Cracking up]
DEE: This is a clean family podcast, dammit!
CAITLIN: [Laughs] I literally referred to sloppy seconds on this show!
DEE: This is true, yes.
DEE: Okay, probably this show isn’t for kids. Um…
So, I’m curious if this line is beat-for-beat the way it was in the sub or not, but one thing I did appreciate again, Sumire Kano, the school president—who, like you said, doesn’t get a lot of time but lets her minutes shine here—she has that moment where she kind of snaps at Ryuji like “There’s more to life than high school, you know.” And I appreciated that because I think a lot of the time, high school anime in particular, there’s very much this sense of “Nothing exists before or after this moment. Nothing will ever be better than this moment” kind of thing.
CAITLIN: Yeah. It’s very decontextualized.
DEE: Yeah, rose tinted, very nostalgic. And so I like that… It’s like you were talking about, too, with Yusaku’s arc, there is this sense of “No, there’s more going on here. We are continuing to grow. And we have responsibilities.”
Yusaku is kind of afraid to take on those responsibilities, but he also wants them, and so it’s… well, “work through that fear and move forward and take those steps into being an adult, because you’re not going to be in high school forever. This is a training ground for a lot of things, including How To Relationship.”
CAITLIN: [Chuckles] Right, because I feel like a lot of high school anime talk about like, “Oh, this is our youth. This is the springtime of our life, our bright green or blue—depending on how you translate it—youth.”
This is part of why I didn’t like the third season of Free. They’re sitting there talking about their middle school friend, and they’re just like, “Yeah, you know, you’re never gonna make friends like that again. Nope. Middle school friendship. That’s it. That’s the end-all-be-all. We’re in college now. We haven’t grown up or moved on at all. We’re just still really thinking a lot about those middle school friendships.”
And I understand that this happens a lot in anime that is aimed at high schoolers, because it does feel like that time of your life matters more than anything else when you’re in it. But I like the bit of perspective there, just like “No, this feels like the end of the world right now, but I have these goals and I’m going to move forward, and you need to focus on your own goals because high school is high school and these feelings are not forever, so we just need to accept that we feel them and then keep going.” I always appreciate that.
VRAI: Oh, yeah. Maybe that’s the other thing about the love quadrangle thing is… Normally what bothers me about high school love melodramas is that thing of, mostly when you date somebody in high school, that relationship isn’t gonna last. And I feel like most anime don’t have a sense of self-awareness of that. And I’m not sure where Toradora is on that front.
DEE: So, yeah, on the one hand, I think it’s probably fair to assume that Ryuji and Taiga are going to hook up. And I think it’s probably fair to assume that we’re supposed to think that they’re going to be very happy together forever and ever. Which is fine. That’s fine.
But one thing I do like is it doesn’t look like any of the other characters are gonna hook up. Maybe they will. I don’t know. At this point, it doesn’t seem like that will be the case. And we have seen the characters cycle through crushes, like Taiga had a crush on Yusaku for a while and she’s kind of starting to get over it. Yusaku had a crush on Taiga and has gotten over it.
So, I think that the show has done some background work to make it so it hits a little bit more of a middle ground, where it’s like “Yeah, this is still a young adult romance, so we are still going to go for a little bit of a fairy tale ending.” —Maybe they won’t. We’ll see how they wrap it up.
But at the same time, we have shown you how sometimes these relationships aren’t going to work out. Yusaku’s crush on Sumire didn’t work out either, and Minori’s crush on Ryuji probably isn’t going to work out. Or Ami. So, I think it’s doing a slightly better job, as opposed to some of those anime where everybody neatly pairs up at the end and we’re just supposed to assume they all just stay together forever and get married.
CAITLIN: Live happily ever after. Harry Potter!
DEE: Yeah, I was about to…
DEE: I was about to dunk on the Harry Potter epilogue, yes. Exactly like that.
CAITLIN: The first person you have a crush on is the person that you’re going to spend your entire life with.
DEE: Yeah, and speaking… you know—and this is just my personal experience—I do know some people who dated in high school, or knew each other in high school and then dated in college, and ended up getting married and are still together and are doing awesome. But I know way, way more people who that did not happen to.
So, I think that you can still tell those stories. But having that balance of other characters in the background who that doesn’t work out for, I think that can help balance that kind of frustrating thing that can happen in young adult fiction where the expectation [is] that you’re supposed to meet your soulmate when you’re fifteen… And you’re not. It’s totally okay if that’s not how that goes down, and it’s probably more likely.
CAITLIN: Life is not a Shakespeare play.
VRAI: Thank God.
CAITLIN: Or a Shakespeare comedy. If it were a Shakespeare tragedy, everyone would be dead.
VRAI: Listen, all I’m saying is that everybody’s favorite Shakespeare couple is Benedick and Beatrice, and those are some disaster 30-year-olds.
DEE: Yeah, they’re great.
CAITLIN: That’s true. I do love Benedick and Beatrice. [crosstalk] Classic tsunderes, both of them.
DEE: [crosstalk] Shakespeare has good comedies. [Laughs] They are tsunderes! Oh, God! Where’s that anime?
VRAI: [Laughs] I mean… Also, neither here nor there, I really liked the Sumire–Taiga fight and how non-fanservicey and brutal it is!
DEE: God, that fight. They just fucking waled on each other. And it was really well-animated, too. I mean, I remember high school fights. They were not nearly that well-choreographed. [Chuckles] But yeah, the raw emotion in that scene is really well-conveyed. So yeah, I enjoyed that. I was like “This is over the top, but it’s also great, so I’ll allow it.”
VRAI: Nobody’s clothes got ripped. They punched the shit out of each other’s faces. It was good.
DEE: It was well done.
VRAI: So, yeah, I’m interested— I feel like I’m going to end up more on the positive side for this show. We’ll see how they go with the… Because I assume the last six episodes has to be Minori’s feelings come out so that Ryuji has to face that… and that’ll be the push for him to realize, “Ah, shit, I actually like Taiga,” and then we’ll resolve that. And that’ll be six episodes, I guess.
DEE: I suspect Ami will still have a bit of a mini-arc. I think Ami will have something else to do, because she’s been quiet this stretch but she’s been hovering in the background. And so, I think she’ll be involved somehow. But Toradora has earned my trust that even if it’s going to hit the beats that irritate me, it’s going to do it in a way that doesn’t irritate me. I just hope that the story continues to stay true to the characters rather than forcing things into plot beats for the sake of dramatics.
So, fingers crossed the series ends strongly. I know a lot of people who are still very fond of it, so I suspect it won’t have a godawful ending or that wouldn’t be the case.
CAITLIN: [deadpan] I actually asked you guys to watch it just so that I could watch you go through the terrible ending.
CAITLIN: I’m sadistic that way.
CAITLIN: You laugh, but you also know that that is not completely out of character for me.
VRAI: I mean, people do love to introduce a messy thing at people. Including me. I’m talking about me.
DEE: Yes. Yes, yes. But usually you’re upfront about “This is kind of a mess, guys, just so you know.” No, typically shows that have infamously bad endings, you live in the anime sphere long enough, you are aware of them. So, I’m hoping that things will work out okay for these kids because I like them and I want things to work out okay for them.
VRAI: Mm-hm. Me too.
CAITLIN: Yeah. I hope those crazy kids work it out.
DEE: Those crazy kids!
CAITLIN: Those crazy kids…
DEE: Those youths.
CAITLIN: All right. Do you have any more specific predictions? “Minori actually shaves her head” or anything else? I love how much she loves that bald cap.
VRAI: It’s precious.
DEE: It’s very cute.
VRAI: I support her.
DEE: No, I’m gonna just stick to my vague predictions and let the show take me to the home plate.
VRAI: I’m ready. I am prepared. That’s all I’ve got.
DEE: Hey, you know what? That’s a good place to wrap, I think.
CAITLIN: All right, then. Let us… [Sighs; muttering self] This is the worst part.
Thank you for listening, everyone. This has been Chatty AF talking about Toradora episodes 14 to 19. Next episode, we’re gonna be finishing up the series, talking about episodes 20 to 25.
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VRAI: For real.